Africa could have half of the world’s childhood cancer cases by 2050

Half of the global cases of childhood cancers could occur in Africa by 2050, with 56.3 cases per million people currently having the disease in the region, says a new report.

The findings of the report published last week (10 May) in The Lancet Oncology showed several factors including the absence of paediatric oncologists as contributing to childhood cancer treatment failure.

For example, the report says only four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa — Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda — provide training in paediatric oncology. It says children in most countries are being treated by nurses and medical officers with no specialist training in cancer care.

“Underlying many of these factors is an absence of political prioritisation of childhood cancer treatment by governments and health systems,” says the report. “Immediate efforts to improve childhood cancer outcomes in Africa are warranted on both ethical and cost-effective grounds.”

Wilfred Ngwa, lead author of the report and chair of the Lancet Oncology Commission, adds: “In Sub-Saharan Africa, the health burden of childhood cancer is heart-breaking, as children die needlessly. The survival rate is only two out of ten children, compared to eight out of ten … in countries such as the United States.

“It is an injustice that needs to be made right.”

Ngwa, an associate professor of radiation oncology at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, tells SciDev.Net that while environmental exposures and genetics contribute to the increase in cancers cases, more studies are needed.

“A large number of deaths or [high] death rates are the heart-breaking part, mostly due to late diagnosis,” he says.

The commission, in a statement release last week (9 May), says that high-income countries must refrain from poaching medical staff with attractive offers if investments in training in these countries will yield results.

“Government cooperation between African states and high-income countries is integral to putting an end to the flight of talent and to improving retention rates,” the statement says.

The report adds that the World Health Organization is discussing with African governments to help prioritise childhood cancer.
Ifeoma Okoye, a professor of radiation, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu State, tells SciDev.Net that more research is required.

“To curb increasing deaths from childhood cancers, creating more awareness, providing better testing and investigations, as well as more research in childhood cancers in Sub-Saharan Africa are needed,” Okoye says.

Okoye adds that better funding, subsidised cost of treatment and efficient health insurance models are imperative to ensure better clinical outcomes for childhood cancers.

“Orphan drugs like the chemotherapy drugs should be produced locally to bring down the cost,” Okoye explains. “Political will is also important to create more childhood cancer awareness … as most childhood cancers are amenable to treatment.”

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